Surprise Visit

When your Airman is stationed in Alaska but texts you to let you know he’ll be in Nevada for the weekend you use up all your airline miles and fly out to go see him!


Well, actually, at first I thought about driving out, but after doing the math realized if I did I would only have an hour to spend with him before I needed to drive back home, and that didn’t seem like enough time. So next I checked flights:  Hey, flights from Colorado Springs to Vegas are supposed to be cheap, right?

They’re not. Well, they might be if you make them a couple of months in advance, but since it was last minute I didn’t have a lot of options.  In the end I used up all my airline miles and still had to pay about $500 to fly Emily and I from Denver to Vegas (and back). Totally worth it!  The downside?  We had to leave at 3am for our flight in, and didn’t get back until 12am the next morning (and then I had to drive home from the airport and turn around and go to work).  We did get to spend a lot of time with Thomas though, and my mom and Tom drove out so we got to see them for a bit as well.

First stop (after picking up our rental vehicle) was breakfast. Mom and Tom were picking up Thomas and meeting us at Eggscellent, a breakfast restraint with the highest ratings online (we all loved our meals!)


It’s weird seeing Thomas wearing glasses. Emily and Thomas spent a lot of time exchanging memes, but we got a lot of great conversation in with everyone as well.  Thomas loves his job, has made new friends, and likes living in Alaska (it’s a lot like Colorado…)


After breakfast Mom and Tom drove back to California, and I took the kids to the Hoover Dam. I’ve been all over the United States, with extra emphasis on the Southwest, and for some reason I’ve never been to the Hoover Dam.  I’m not sure why?  Most likely because I thought it would be underwhelming (it was).  We parked and decided to walk around for a bit…




There was a dedication area that intrigued the kids: there were bronze statues and the entire walking area was a map of the stars that would indicate to celestial beings the exact time and date the dam had been constructed.  I thought this was a little self promoting, but realize it isn’t a new idea.  Touching the toes of the statue(s) was encouraged.


There was a summit marker here, which I appreciated.


We crossed the bridge, and the ‘dam’ jokes began.

Don’t sit on the dam wall

Dam Tumbleweed

Dam fish

Dam birds

Dam boat

Dam tour

Dam project

Dam guard

Dam dog (yes, there’s an actual Dam dog that was portly because the 3500 workers all loved him and liked giving him treats)

(you get the idea)

The kids even started putting together memes…




There was a great joke made about Emily being in APUSH and Herbert Clark Hoover being the first president of the United States (don’t ask, but it was funny) and Thomas wished for a basketball to roll down the side of the dam (a dam basketball) to play physics games.


Of course we took some family photos (points to Thomas for taking as many photos as I asked for!)


Thomas asked me how the dam had been built and I didn’t know the answer (well, dam). It was getting warm so we decided to go to the visitor’s center to find out.  Admission included a 10 minute (dam) video, explaining how the dam was built:  They blasted huge holes in the mountain to divert the river, and then poured 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete to form the wall.  It was way more complicated than that, but that’s the gist.  It had some really bad grammar for a documentary (‘builded’ was one of the words used).  Also, they didn’t explain how they re-routed the river back?  All in all it was very (dam) educational, and the kids actually enjoyed the experience.  I’m glad they’re old enough to appreciate learning, even when the way it’s presented isn’t fun.  It was kind of cool being in both Arizona and Nevada and going back and forth between time zones.  The entire experience from parking to leaving took about an hour and a half.

Next we drove to Red Rock Canyon. I’d been told this was the place to adventure in the Las Vegas area and had high expectations. Apparently so did everyone else:  it took us 45 minutes to get through the admissions gate!  Thomas had a military pass that got us in for free (thanks Thomas!).  We decided to drive and look for some places to hike.  There were so many people there this was more difficult than it sounds.  The first three turnoffs held dozens of vehicles and they were all full, so we kept driving and looked for a less popular spot.  There wasn’t one, so I parked about a mile away from a trailhead and we walked along a dirt road that would take us to look at White Rock.


We were already tired when we made it to the trailhead, and everyone there said there wasn’t anything to see, it was just a ‘hike’ so we turned around and walked a mile back to the car, intent on hiking somewhere with a destination.

Petroglyph Wall sounded promising, so we drove there next. Once again, there wasn’t any parking, but I found if I waited long enough someone would leave. This was a short walk from the parking area to the site, with dozens of social trails we could take to get there.


The site had a few petroglyphs, and we’d been expecting… more.  They were blocked off and there were shrubs and bushes all around so there wasn’t a great view.


We are really spoiled with the petroglyphs we have at The Ranch , so the kids weren’t impressed here at all.  We took a few pictures and decided to go exploring


I went off trail and found a place we could boulder for a bit. The kids were against it at first (“Mom!  Don’t go off trail!”) but quickly followed, eager to boulder as well.  I found a really good spot with a few crumbling petroglyphs and called the kids up.


Thomas decided to bushwhack his way up and ended up tearing a 4 inch hole his shirt! He took it well but was disappointed since he really liked that shirt.  I told him we’d go shopping on the way back and get him another shirt (somewhere…).  In any event, bouldering was fun


On the brochure they gave us at the entrance gate there was a picture of some bighorn sheep petroglyphs, but no information on where they were in the park. It would have been fun to find them, but they looked really well preserved and I’m sure they weren’t in an ‘obvious’ place or they would be behind fencing (etc).  We now had a plan (Thomas needed a new shirt) so we left the park and went to a shopping area.

Thomas found a shirt and a pair of shorts at the first place, and Emily found a shirt at the second.   Satisfied we’d shopped enough for today we went in search of dinner.  The kids both wanted In n Out, so we found one close to Thomas’ hotel and went in.  There were so many people there (most in less than appropriate bathing suits).  The food was good though


There was an ‘In n Out store’ nextdoor and we had time so we decided to take a look. They had a bunch of In n Out merch (obviously) and while we were there Thomas decided to buy a shirt and hat:  his Halloween Costume is now taken care of.

Next we drove to the strip and parked as close as we could to Thomas’ hotel. It took us a while to find a parking spot, and the lot was intended for customers only so we went inside and bought a pack of gum for the flight home.  The security guard talked with us and said it was ok for us to park there while we walked around for a bit. We only had half an hour before we needed to leave.

None of us are big fans of Las Vegas. It’s just not our style, but that’s where his hotel was and Thomas wanted to see the Bellagio Water Show (his roommates weren’t interested).  It was a close walk, and the show went on every 30 minutes.

We found a TAC military store, which was great because Thomas’ initials are TAC


And of course took a picture by the Eiffel Tower and had to quote Gru: “We stole the Statue of Liberty – the small one, from Las Vegas! I won’t even mention the Eiffel Tower… also Vegas.”


We ended the day at the Bellagio water show, which was only 3 minutes long but a highlight of the day. The kids and I sat on the fence to watch it.  We were all impressed, and I’m sure Thomas will go again to see it before he leaves.


Goodbyes are always hard. We walked back to the car, Thomas gathered up all his gear (new clothes, costume, leftover cinnamon roll from breakfast) and we hugged goodbye, not sure when we’d see each other again.  It could be months or even years.  I need to find a way to get to Alaska to visit him…

My favorite part about the day was being together. I loved seeing the kids laughing and joking and having fun!

The flight home was uneventful. Emily and I both tried to sleep but that’s more difficult than it sounds on a plane.  Vegas is beautiful from far away


Emily had a lot of homework to do this weekend she wasn’t able to get done and she didn’t get a lot of sleep, but I believe bringing her to see her brother was more than justified: we may not see Thomas again for another few years and my kids are all best friends.  It was so cool seeing them interact together:  I only wish Rebecca could have made the trip as well.

When we got home Emily had tons of homework to do, but since it was 2am I told her to go to bed. The next day she was anxious because she had a lot of homework to catch up on.  I told her to explain to her teachers it was a last minute trip to see her brother who’s stationed in Alaska and who she might not see again for a few years.  She’s in honors classes and doesn’t think her teachers will buy it, but she’s also a good student and I think they’ll be lenient this one time…


Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

One thought on “Surprise Visit”

  1. It was good to see You and Your families together once again. I didn’t hardly recognize Your Son from some of Your previous photos of him in training at the Fire Department He really looks very sophisticated and so different in presenting Himself before Your camera.It is totally amazing how Your children have grown after watching Your video and pictorial of (The Ranch) It’s sad that Your other daughter was unable to attend because she had other responsibilites in Her life to attend to. Thank You for sharing this added attravtion to Your postings.It’s nice to see You out of the wind swept,snow covered mountains if only for a short while.However You mentioned warmer gear to cope with the elements and I’m surely glad about that. You are absolutely right about the air fares from Colorado Springs to Vegas if ordered at certain times.I’m not a big fan of Las Vegas.I’m not much of a People person,nor have I ever been.I love just sitting in the forest and listening to the wildl life and wishing I had a better camera to take in some photos as You took of the elk only with a telephoto lens.It doesn’t take much to set them running.You even made a comment about that very fact.I truly do love Your photos and short videos presenting Your many accomplishments and struggles. Once again I’m so very happy forYour family being together if even for a short visit with one another.Always look forward to greeting one another soon.


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